Sally Coookson is in rehearsal for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Bridge Theatre. It is the first 'family' show to be put on in this fabulous new space and the production's first London run after opening at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds last year.
Cookson is a famously collaborative director. Rehearsals started with a copy of the C.S. Lewis book, with everyone sharing their experiences of the story. Like several of the cast, Sally’s own introduction to the adventures of the Pevensie family was not from the book itself but a TV adaptation in the ‘70s – she remembers being terrified of the White Witch and feeling the thrill of going through the wardrobe. It wasn’t until she started reading it to her daughter that the magic of the book itself took hold. She is the first to admit she had been a bit ‘snooty’ about its reputation as a Christian allegory but she is says that in fact the story is full of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology too. The Pagan concept of a natural world that is out of balance, that needs young people to come and sort it out, obviously has huge resonance today with ever more apocalyptic climate warnings and the defiant figure of Greta Thunberg.
Rehearsals are all about developing the characters and ensuring they come from a fully rounded place. Sally's challenge is to find an imaginative route into a fantastical world. She explains that interestingly there is only one sentence about the War in the original book. We are told the children have to leave London, ‘because of the bombs’. This simple statement is a key to how they behave, including the villainous/traumatised Edmund. “They have been put in a strange place in a stranger’s house and are experiencing real trauma and they deal with it in different ways.”
Sally doesn’t think that family Christmas shows should shy away from being upsetting. Aslan’s sacrifice at the end of the story “... goes to a very dark place...” and is a part of the play that she has relished exploring further for this production. She explains, with refreshing honesty, that sometimes it is the last part of a production that needs a bit of looking at when you revisit it - it is simply a question of running out of time! Another challenge she has been battling with is the snow - again, it's finding the imaginative route. Duvets anyone?
She loves truly multi-generational productions where you can all talk about them afterwards, whether that is panto (“nothing beats a good panto!”) or a show like this, which promises to be an absolute treat.
Previewing until 18 Nov and then running to 2 Feb. Click here to book tickets.